TBWA rethinks brand strategy

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Omnicom Group's TBWA Worldwide is changing its approach to how it develops advertising and marketing plans for its clients by launching a new integration department, TBWA/Connect.

TBWA/Connect differs from traditional integration plans at ad agencies because the process does not begin with the presumption that a client wants advertising that simply needs to be translated into different media, said Carl Johnson, president of TBWA Worldwide. "From the very beginning, we question how does the consumer connect with a brand," Mr. Johnson said. "The historic arrogance of advertising has been to say, `The answer is advertising, now what is the question?"' he said. "The practice was to make everything look like the ad. That's not right. The right way is to question from the very beginning, how does a consumer connect with the brand."

The unit will be led by Nick McLean, who will drop his role as U.S. media director based in New York to spearhead the new unit. His new title had not been formalized at press time. Succeeding him will be Monica Karo, TBWA/Chiat/Day's media director in Playa del Rey, Calif., who expands her current role to the new post of chief media officer worldwide.

TBWA/Connect "is not about taking an idea from one discipline and extending into other channels such as direct or digital," Mr. McLean said. "It is about big ideas that emerge before an ad is ever developed, and a decision about how to best connect ideas across all channels of communication."

TBWA/Connect operations will be based in New York, but also will be rolled out in key network offices including London, Paris and Playa del Rey over the next few months. TBWA/Connect planning groups will be established in all offices by summer 2002. "All new clients will be starting here," Mr. Johnson said.

According to Mr. Johnson, the TBWA/Connect planning approach was already implemented on accounts such as Seagram Wines & Spirits Group's Absolut. And it is also now becoming the basis for servicing TBWA's largest client, Kmart Corp. "From the very beginning Kmart wanted that approach," Mr. Johnson said. "They just didn't want us to make some ads. They want to know how to go to market using communications."

The TBWA/Connect staff will come from different disciplines-media, strategic planning, account planning, direct marketing, interactive and creative departments. "There will be a specific group of people who will execute this," Mr. Johnson said. "And this will then influence the entire way the agency thinks. A bit like planning did many years back."

TBWA's move comes as the industry re-examines the success of integration services (see related article at left). "We hope this is a much bigger thing than just integration," said Ms. Karo, who expects to be working closely with Mr. McLean.

Connect has its roots in a brand of media planning that recognizes Marshall McLuhan's edict "the media is the message" and merges strategic planning with media planning in order to derive a brand message. The London shop Michaelides & Bednash, which recently opened a New York office, is one of the foremost examples of this practice.

"Michaelides & Bednash has been big on qualitative research for a long time, and knowing how people relate to channels," Mr. Johnson said, acknowledging the influence of this small shop on TBWA's new unit.

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